As a Drew University Civic Scholar, a program at Drew University that promotes civic engagement in order to better the lives of the less fortunate, Civic engagement is defined as, “citizens’ sense of concern and obligation to others, which spurs them to act for communal benefit” (Gallant, 2010). Things people might to benefit others may be volunteering for a community organization that helps the less fortunate by serving to the less fortunate people’s needs. From my personal experience as a volunteer, some volunteer activities were really influential, made a big impact on how I lived my life, and I would love to go back again to volunteer there; for other activities, however, it was not the case. Don’t get me wrong; I love volunteering in general, but I like some organizations over others.
You may ask your self why I love some volunteering activities and not others, aren’t they all the same? All volunteer opportunities are to help others. They are not the same. I would go back to the ones that had made an impact, such as Youth Service Opportunities Project, YSOP for short, rather than at Furniture Assist. YSOP made me feel self-fulfilled; I feel like I made a difference. The Furniture Assist experience was not as life changing as YSOP. It was not because the people who founded it or the people who worked there wasn’t nice; they were very kind to their patrons and me. It was because I was mandated to go there for the freshman service requirement. I did not feel I made a difference there. They do fine with or without me. I knew their cause was to help others through giving furniture. I found I was distant from the cause because all I did was move furniture and reimbursed people for their donations. Thus, I did not go after my required hours were done. It is like being in New York City where it is busy, but hardly anyone knows each other. The showroom floor where the furniture was located and being moved was busy, but I really did not have to connection with the patrons. I even got yelled at by a patron for working to slow. Why should I be forced to work at a place where I get bumped into and get yelled at? I rarely quit volunteering at a site after I was done with hours.
Yes, I believe that every college student should volunteer because I believe it is self-fulfilling and is an overall valuable experience. Unfortunately, a lot of college students don’t these days; according to Corporation for National and Community Service, “In 2010, 26.1 percent of college students around the United States volunteered” (usatoday30.usatoday.com, 2012). That is rather low. Why is that; is it because they don’t have enough time? I think not. It’s probably because, like me, some students today are mandated to go do community service for a period of time, even if they did not believe in the cause of the volunteer site. Thus, they quit volunteering. I like using fire as an analogy; if you were forced to touch fire or pay a fine, you reluctantly would for the first time because you don’t want to pay the fine. I bet you won’t do it again, even if it was mandated. You rather pay the fine than touch fire. It is actually proven many times by scholars that mandating students, even if they don’t believe in a cause, to do volunteer work really is not the best way to get more students to volunteer and solve the low numbers. As mentioned, I was mandated to go for a site for freshman placement; I choose to volunteer at the town hall; I believed that the town hall site would really benefit me in the long run and I believed in their cause. However, I did not get in and was placed at Furniture Assist. Whereas, my life was changed at YSOP and I plan to go back for a third time and a fourth. What was different about YSOP? It was non-mandatory so I had a choice to go or not to go; I went because I believe in the cause. If I didn’t believe in the cause I would not have gone. It is bad if you are forced to do work, it is worse if you don’t believe in the cause.
- Negative Impacts of Mandatory Service and Benefits of Non Mandatory Service
I do concede with several critics that mandated service is necessary to expose adolescences to civic engagement. Indeed, my experience at Furniture Assist led me to realize that there was a population, less fortunate people, that needed our help. However, I won’t go back there. In a study, Henderson et al. (2013) asked student volunteers from Wilfrid Laurier University if they had a meaningful or interesting experience, 80 people out of 163 people who were mandated said yes, compared to 83 non mandated out of the same 163 volunteers said yes. In the same study, when the researchers (2013) asked 164 volunteers from the same university felt that they made a difference in the organization, 79 mandated students said they did and 85 non-mandated students said they did. Furthermore, the researchers (2013) asked 155 volunteers if they found joy in volunteering 74 volunteers said they enjoyed it—they were mandated—81 out of the pool say they did. These 81 people were not mandated. It is clear that, “mandatory volunteering programs do not poison the well for civic engagement and that extensive volunteering, rather than minimal volunteering” (Henderson et al., 2013). In other words, mandated volunteering is not a good way to keep students in the volunteering force.
Another reason why mandated volunteering is bad is because it could take away the motivation part of volunteering. Motivation is essential to keep students in the volunteering force. They want to volunteer so they will keep doing it without being asked? Isn’t that the point of volunteering? Geiser et al. (2014) believe that motivation is key to the frequency of volunteering; they also believe that there are many motivations that motivate student to do volunteer work. First, they are motivated by value of serving others; in other words, they are “expressing deeply held beliefs about the importance of others” (Geiser et al., 2014). Second, the student volunteer may volunteer because of enhancement of themselves as people; they want to enhance a “sense of self- worth” (Geiser et al., 2014). Third, the student must feel like they understand something meaningful from the service. As Geiser et al. (2014) believes one must engage in activities that promote learning.
At YSOP, I learned the meaning of service while going to different service sites. This year, at YSOP, I learned from cooking dinner and talking with the homeless that they are just like us. They have dreams and aspirations. In fact, I met this homeless lady who wanted to me a scientist and publish her findings on the equation of black holes and the idea of an alternate universe. She showed me her diaries filled with scientific notes. I was amazed at her vast knowledge and it inspired me to investigate a topic I am passionate about, like admissions. I also learned that homeless people are just like us; they are not lazy, rather circumstances, structure, put them there. While serving there, I saw them smile which made me gain self-worth and feel happy that I accomplished something. Because of the happy experience I will go back for the third and fourth times.
- Statistical Proof of the Effectiveness of Non Mandatory Service
It has again been proven by many scholars that external control has led to a decrease in volunteerism in the long run after the first required service. Stukas et al. (1999) examined University of St. Thomas’, in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduation requirement that required all undergraduate business majors to engage in 40 hours of community service. Based on prior research and studies, the researcher’s hypothesis, holding past volunteer experience constant, was that the students would be less likely to volunteer in the future if there was external control; in other words, mandatory service decreases the likelihood of future volunteering, regardless of past volunteer experiences. The researcher’s hypothesis was true when they examined the case study. The results showed, “When students perceived the service-learning program to be more controlling of their behavior, the positive relation between past volunteer experience and future intentions was weak-ened (sic); thus, students who had the greatest past experience and who also felt controlled did not have the highest future intentions— instead, their intentions were undermined by the requirement” (Stukas et al., 1999). This again shows that mandatory service isn’t the way to get students to volunteer in the future.
- Getting Out There
Being as volunteering is non-mandatory is the best way to retain student volunteers; the problem now lies how do we get student volunteers to volunteer if they are not forced to? Past volunteers along with student life have to hold information sessions about volunteer organization who had a great time working with the organization. Specifically, the past volunteers could tell successful stories about great volunteer experiences at different sites on and off campus; telling prospective students how volunteering can benefit their lives. How will this method work in attracting volunteers? Kretchmar and Memory (2010) believe that reason plays a role in decision-making; however, emotion plays an equal, if not greater, role. That is rather than throwing statistics at the prospective students; past volunteers can share how the less fortunate showed gratitude after the volunteers helped or how the volunteer’s lives changed for the better after the experience. Pictures of smiling volunteers and less fortunate people put on power point could also spark emotion. The prospective students can then weigh the cost and benefits of each volunteer site and choose one over the others. If so, the students want to sign up right then and there—they can—with signup sheets handed out to the attendees. It is similar to a testimonials page on a website. How do we attract people to these meetings? We can bring free food.
Furthermore, we could use social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email more often to promote such events and volunteer opportunities. Research has shown that the generation Y no longer uses posters and flyers to spread the word, rather they “are busy updating their Facebook status on their mobile device” (Berry et al., 2012). Because generation Y are on social media for hours at a time, that media is the best platform to advertise volunteer activities.
Lastly, and most importantly the past volunteers must revolve around the customers, rather than the opposite. In other words, we must speak their language. When using slogans or tag lines, recruiters must use the language what the prospective customers are using. This makes it more relatable for prospective students. Instead of using, what are you doing over winter break? Why not help the homeless? One might use, wht are u doin’ over spring break? Why don’t u help the homeless? Copper (2009) an assistant professor of Student Affairs agrees that we must use the client’s language the way the client uses it in order to make the product one is selling more appealing.
- Future Implications and Discussion
I firmly believe that community service is an essential part of a college student’s life because it gives the student a well-rounded education; I mean that it give students real world experiences that an education at school would not otherwise experience. They get to meet new people other than the ones that they associate with. I also give students a chance to help others and both better someone else’s life, as well as giving the student a sense of self worth and happiness. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, student volunteerism is very low. Contrary to popular belief mandating students to volunteer is not the way to achieve a high student volunteering pool. In fact, it does the opposite.
However, what do we do with those who are not in the volunteering force? I believe a grass roots campaign or an information session on campus is necessary to get the word out there. Those who have volunteered in the past can direct and/ or participate in these events by sharing their good experiences while at their sites. Don’t just list one or two sites; list many. Let the prospective student volunteers to mull over the possible choices and weigh the cost and benefits of each one. Then they can choose the best fit. For example, I could organize an event with the help of Student Activities, I could host an event where Drew University students can share their great volunteer experiences at different sites on and off campus; telling prospective students how volunteering can benefit their lives. If the students want to sign up right then and there—they can—with sign up sheets handed out to the attendees. It is similar to a testimonials page on a website. How do we attract people to these meetings? Free food. Tasty free food will help attract a crowd of people almost all the time; I mean who can reject free food, right?
Berry, D. M., & Bass, C. P. (2012). Successfully recruiting, surveying, and retaining college students: A description of methods for the risk, religiosity, and Emerging Adulthood Study. Research In Nursing & Health, 35(6), 659-670.
Cooper, J. (2009). We Don’t Speak Their Language: Radical Creativity with Branding. Journal Of College Admission, 203, 14-17.
Fewer college students volunteer their time. (2012, January 1). Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-01-22/college-students-volunteering/52744806/1
Galliant, K., Smale, B., & Arai, S. (2010). Civic Engagement Through Mandatory Community Service: Implications of Serious Leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 42(2), 181-201.
Geiser, C., Okun, M., & Grano, C. (2014). Who is motivated to volunteer? A latent profile analysis linking volunteer motivation to frequency of volunteering. Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling, 56(1), 3-24.
Henderson, A., Pancer, S., & Brown, S. (2013). Creating Effective Civic Engagement Policy for Adolescents: Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluations of Compulsory Community Service. Journal of Adolescent Research, 29(1), 120-154.
Kretchmar, J., & Memory, A. (2010). One College’s Journey into the Unconscious Mind of Its Prospective Students: How a New Research Methodology Is Helping Us Recruit. Journal Of College Admission, (207), 8-15.
Stukas, A., Snyder, M., & Clary, E. (1999). The Effects Of “Mandatory Volunteerism” On Intentions To Volunteer. Psychological Science, 10(1), 59-64.
 Did not clarify if the volunteers studied at the university overlapped and answered two or more questions.
Psychological Science, 10(1), 59-64.  Did not clarify if the volunteers studied at the university overlapped and answered two or more questions.